El Mamoun And Zubeideh by John Payne

Story type: Literature

El Mamoun and Zubeideh[163]

It is said that El Mamoun[164] came one day upon Zubeideh, mother of El Amin,[165] and saw her moving her lips and muttering somewhat he understood not; so he said to her, “O mother mine, dost thou imprecate [curses] upon me, for that I slew thy son and despoiled him of his kingdom?” “Not so, by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful!” answered she, and he said, “What then saidst thou?” Quoth she, “Let the Commander of the Faithful excuse me.” But he was instant with her, saying, “Needs must thou tell it.” And she replied, “I said, ‘God confound importunity!’” “How so?” asked the Khalif, and she said, “I played one day at chess with the Commander of the Faithful [Haroun er Reshid] and he imposed on me the condition of commandment and acceptance.[166] He beat me and bade me put off my clothes and go round about the palace, naked; so I did this, and I incensed against him. Then we fell again to playing and I beat him; so I bade him go to the kitchen and swive the foulest and sorriest wench of the wenches thereof. [I went to the kitchen] and found not a slave-girl fouler and filthier than thy mother;[167] so I bade him swive her. He did as I bade him and she became with child by him of thee, and thus was I [by my unlucky insistance] the cause of the slaying of my son and the despoiling him of his kingdom.” When El Mamoun heard this, he turned away, saying, “God curse the importunate!” to wit, himself, who had importuned her till she acquainted him with that matter.

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[Footnote 163] Breslau Text, vol. vii. pp. 261-2, Night dlxviii.

[Footnote 164] Seventh Khalif of the house of Abbas, A.D. 813-33.

[Footnote 165] Sixth Khalif of the house of Abbas, A.D. 809-13, a sanguinary and incapable prince, whose contemplated treachery against his brother El Mamoun, (whom, by the advice of his vizier, the worthless intriguer Fezl ben Rebya, the same who was one of the prime movers in the ruin of the illustrious Barmecide family and who succeeded Yehya and his sons in the vizierate (see my Essay), he contemplated depriving of his right of succession and murdering,) was deservedly requited with the loss of his own kingdom and life. He was, by the way, put to death by El Mamoun’s general, in contravention of the express orders of that generous and humane prince, who wished his brother to be sent prisoner to him, on the capture of Baghdad.

[Footnote 166] i.e. forfeits. It is a favourite custom among the Arabs to impose on the loser of a game, in lieu of stakes, the obligation of doing whatsoever the winner may command him. For an illustration of this practice, see my “Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night,” Vol. V. pp. 336-41, Story of the Sandalwood Merchant and the Sharpers.

[Footnote 167] El Mamoun was of a very swarthy complexion and is said to have been the son of a black slave-girl. Zubeideh was Er Reshid’s cousin, and El Amin was, therefore, a member of the house of Abbas, both on the father’s and mother’s side. Of this purity of descent from the Prophet’s family (in which he is said to have stood alone among the Khalifs of the Abbaside dynasty) both himself and his mother were exceedingly proud, and it was doubtless this circumstance which led Er Reshid to prefer El Amin and to assign him the precedence in the succession over the more capable and worthier El Mamoun.

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